The fifth annual Chicago Book Expo kicks off this Sunday, November 13, at Columbia College Chicago (1104 S. Wabash), a book fair featuring more than 70 local presses, publications, and literary organizations, along with panels, workshops, and other events. Run by volunteers, the expo is organized by Lynn Haller (author, former literary agent and acquisitions editor, freelance writer) and John K. Wilson (author of eight books about politics and academic freedom, co-editor of AcademeBlog). They’re the same duo who run the Evanston Literary Festival in the spring.
I recently spoke with Lynn about what sets the expo apart from a traditional literary festival and why they need your help in the future. And just FYI, the Chicago Review of Books will have a table at the expo on Sunday, where we’ll be giving away dozens of free, brand-new books and hosting a signing with Martin Seay.
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Adam Morgan: What was the impetus for founding the expo back in 2011?
Lynn Haller: We didn’t start the Chicago Book Expo ourselves, John Rich and other volunteers did. The original impetus was to fight back against the big bookstore chains and promote Chicago’s independent publishers and literary community. After the event was cancelled in 2012 and was about to be cancelled in 2013, we took it over to keep it going.
Adam Morgan: What sets it apart from Printers Row and the traditional “literary festival”?
Lynn Haller: The Chicago Book Expo has a strong Chicago focus. The Printers Row Lit Fest and similar events usually bring in nationally famous authors. The Chicago Book Expo has authors, small presses, and nonprofit groups from the Chicago area.
Adam Morgan: What’s the hardest thing about running a book expo? What’s the most rewarding?
Lynn Haller: The hardest part is getting publicity for the event. People who show up are almost always happy with the expo floor and the diversity of the programs, but we don’t own a major newspaper and we don’t have the budget for big publicity, and this year, the election and the Cubs have made it especially hard to get press. Running a literary festival on a budget of a couple thousand dollars with a handful of volunteers is a difficult undertaking. But it’s rewarding to see so much of Chicago’s publishing community together in one space, and people at the expo finding new authors and new publishers they didn’t know about before.
Adam Morgan: How will the 2016 expo be different from years past?
Lynn Haller: Because we have less floor space, we won’t have many author exhibitors, unless they’re speaking or tabling with an association, so it’s a more tightly focused list of exhibitors. Also, we have teamed up with a Columbia College student group, Myth-Ink, who has organized a series of professional development events for writers, “So You Want to Be an Author.” With Chaz Ebert and RogerEbert.com, we are doing a tribute to Roger Ebert as a writer. And we’re working with the American Library Association on a program about their project promoting diversity in publishing.
Adam Morgan: What do you hope to see in the future of the festival?
Lynn Haller: We hope the Chicago Book Expo has a future. We want to get more people involved to help, or else we might have to end it—but we say that every year.
Adam Morgan is the founding editor of the Chicago Review of Books and the Southern Review of Books. His essays and criticism have appeared in The Paris Review, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Chicago magazine, and elsewhere.